Tag Archives: Joe Pantoliano

The Fugitive

What motifs, when implemented well, make for an effective thriller? The wrongly accused man whom no one believes, the dogged pursuer who engages in ruthless indifference, the chaotic statewide manhunt, the methodical quest to clear one’s name, the righteous anger when the time for confrontation arrives. The Fugitive employs all of these and more almost effortlessly, and is as close to a perfect thriller as I can think of. It’s not just that the film is so exciting every step of the way, not just that the stunts are pulled off flawlessly or that every cog in the story’s mechanism turns believably, its simply that Harrison Ford plays Dr. Richard Kimble as so relatable, so likeable and engaging that all the stuff I mentioned before, whether or not executed well, actually matters. The lynchpin scene that hooks us in occurs early on when a dipshit Chicago police detective (Ron Dean, who would go on to get shot in the face by Harvey Dent later in his career) bluntly interrogates Kimble after his wife is found murdered. Ford plays it it straight up, his raw reaction at being accused of something so unthinkable sears the screen, and as he pounds the table and pleads with them to “find this man”, we are immediately and unconditionally on his side, a lot to pull off in one scene but Ford is up to it and this may be his best performance ever. After that it’s a careening adrenaline rush of a chase film as the prison bus Kimble is on is hit by a speeding train, one of the finest pieces of blow-shit-up staging I’ve ever seen, propelling the man on a relentless ditch effort to find the mysterious one armed man who actually killed his wife (a far too short lived Sela Ward) and exact retribution. Tommy Lee Jones is a walking stick of C4 as US Marshal Sam Gerard, it isn’t so much his job to track down Kimble as it is his compulsion, the man is a calculating force of nature. Although put in Kimble’s path as the obstacle, the script treats him and his team with respect and intelligence, they’re not just mindless drones to keep plot and action sailing but fully formed human beings who start to unravel the mystery right alongside the good doctor. The film hurtles along from stunt to crash to chase to brutal fistfight and these sequences have since become iconic, especially that fiery sonic boom of a crash and the legendary standoff between Ford and Jones set in a storm drain leading off of a raging river dam hundreds of feet below. Everything just works in this film; Ford supplies charisma, subtle humour and inspires empathy all while kicking serious ass and evading capture in ways that would make Jason Bourne jealous, Jones chews scenery in the best way possible and is every bit the worthy adversary and eventual sympathizer, while Jeroen Krabbe, L. Scott Caldwell, Daniel Roebuck, Joe Pantoliano, Andreas Katsulas, Tom Wood, Richard Rhiele, Nick Searcy and Jane Lynch all provide excellent work. Julianne Moore shows up in what appears at first to be a cameo as a suspicious nurse, but she was originally written in for a larger role as a new love interest for Kimble. The film cut her scenes and abandoned this subplot, a very wise move as it would have cheapened his arc and gone the cliche route. Simply put, this is a classic and a textbook example of the magic possible in the action/adventure/thriller genres. Brilliant.

-Nate Hill

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Cats & Dogs

In my household the felines and canines seem to abide harmoniously, but in the hectic alternate reality of Warner Bros’ Cats & Dogs, such is not the case. This is one silly ass movie whose special effects time has not been kind to, but I still kind of partly dig it anyways. Jeff Goldblum plays one of his terminally awkward dudes, a scientist who is on the verge of curing dog allergies in humans, and the ruling body of the cat nation, spearheaded by Sean Hayes persnickety Mr. Tinkles, keeps sending in spies to steal the formula. The dog faction, lead by Charlton Heston’s grizzled General, send in operatives of their own to counter the attacks, including Alec Baldwin’s veteran Butch and an excitable Beagle rookie (Tobey Maguire). The filmmakers used a chaotic blend of real live animals, jerky animatronics and barely passable CGI to bring the whole spectacle to life, but they can be given somewhat of a pass as it was the early 2000’s. I did get a kick out of parachuting ninja Siamese cats, a Russian specialist sent in to infiltrate Goldblum’s household and the variety of voice actors including Joe Pantoliano, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Lovitz and Susan Sarandon. Something has to be said for the borderline psychotic nursemaid (Miriam Margoyles) who preens over the villainous Mr. Tinkles like the matron from hell, these scenes do come alive and induce chuckles, but for the most part this is kind of a lame, dated flick.

-Nate Hill

Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II

Michael Bay is a great filmmaker and Bad Boys II is a masterpiece, one of the best action movies ever made. I know there are those out there who have nothing but contempt for Bay and his balls out, blitzkrieg blockbusters, and that’s okay. But there’s also those of us who recognize that the guy just has bushels of talent when it comes to staging breathtakingly explosive, propulsive large scale action sequences. I’ll concede that he has been perpetually slumming it in Transformers-ville for ten punishing years, but honestly I think that’s just to harvest dollars from the Asian box office overseas, because that’s where those big dumb flicks are most popular.

Bay’s core filmography is legendary, and while I’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite, I’d say Bad Boys II if you held a gun to my head, definitely because of aforementioned action sequences but also it’s just one of the funniest fucking things I’ve ever seen, thanks to the combustible camaraderie between Martin Lawrence, Will Smith and a host of scene stealing others. This film is insane in all the best possible ways, it starts at brutal excess and only escalates from there until taste, shame and any other employments of restraint have been pummelled by a beautifully un-PC masterwork of ultra-violence, cheerful profanity, unabashed nihilism and enough Miami gunplay to constitute a civil war.

While Bay’s first Bad Boys was a great time, it was kind of like pre-drinks at buddy’s place before really getting the night underway, and II is the penthouse party that blows the lid off of everything, gets the cops called and shuts down the entire block. Smith and Lawrence’s Mike Lowry and Marcus Burnett kick off the proceedings by noisily barrelling through a KKK rally in the Everglades which results in Marcus getting accidentally shot through the ass cheek by his own partner, going on to be a priceless running joke. Then it’s on to take down simultaneously terrifying and hilarious Cuban drug baron Johnny Tapia, played by Jordi Molla in a performance so manic and unhinged that to me he represents the Spanish Gary Oldman. This results in a deafening, barnstorming tirade of extended car chases, ferocious shootouts, almost horror movie level carnage, excessive drug consumption and so much bickering between our two leads that we begin to wonder what was improv and what was scripted, but I suspect it was mostly the former. Bruckheimer seriously just threw paint at the wall here and let Bay set fire to it, this has to be one of the most precious, time capsule worthy, fucked up blockbusters that has ever come down the Hollywood assembly line. Gabrielle Union has never been sexier and holds her own as Marcus’s DEA sister, Bay favourite Peter Stormare hams it up almost as much as he did in Armageddon as an unstable Russian gangster and the cast is insane with memorable work from Michael Shannon, Yul Vasquez, Teresa Randle, Oleg Taktarov, Jon Seda, Antoni Carone, Henry Rollins and more. A huge shout-out to Joe Pantoliano as their stressed out Captain, he reaches levels of exasperation that I didn’t think were possible, and the scene where Marcus shows up in his living room fucked up on ecstasy is one of the most indescribably great comedic moments of the millennium, played to the hilt by all three actors.

From drug infested Miami Beach nightclubs to all out warfare on the highway overpasses to attitude filled family pool parties at Marcus’s crib to a thrilling showdown outside Tapia’s Cuban mansion and everything in between, Bay pretty much set the bar for the R rated action comedy, and set it pretty fucking high. Critics like Ebert hate this one because it overflows with unpleasantness, excess and mean spirited humour, and hey who am I to argue. If your sense of humour is tuned in to this kind of stuff then you’ll dig it, if not then it won’t be your bag, it’s very much an early 00’s film and most of it sadly wouldn’t even come close to being green-lit in today’s big budget world. I love this crazy ass film to pieces, it’s showcase Bay, hallmark Bruckheimer, the comedic pinnacle of both Smith and Lawrence’s careers (“Big fuckin eyes, but a nice fuckin fish!!”) and a milestone in the action genre. Woosahh.

-Nate Hill

Midnight Run

Buddy comedy. Action crime extravaganza. Road trip flick. Endlessly charming. Funny beyond words. Surprisingly emotional where it counts. Midnight Run is a low key American classic and one of the best films ever put out by any studio. As close to perfect as it gets, engaging from beginning to end and rooted in it’s central relationship between terminally cranky bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) and straight laced, on-the-lam embezzling accountant Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Gordon). They couldn’t be more dysfunctional, paired together on a country wide goose chase and pursued by the FBI (hilarious buffoon Yaphet Kotto, subject to a running joke for the ages), the world’s angriest Chicago mobster (Dennis Farina), a hapless fellow bounty hunter (John Ashton) and a weaselly bail bondsman (Joe Pantoliano). Deniro is a bitter, alienated lone wolf whose brittle exterior is gradually chipped away at by the warm-hearted, endearingly persistent Grodin, and their mutual character development is simply some of the best ever written and acted. The supporting cast whirls about them in perfect harmony, while every stroke of the plot lands neatly, for about as close to a perfectly staged narrative as you can get. My favourite sequence has to be the most affecting (because I’m a sap): the pair visits Jack’s ex wife and kids, and a heated, long overdue domestic squabble is stopped dead in it’s tracks as Jack’s daughter, who hasn’t seen him in nine years, walks into the room. It’s a heart wrenching scene in a mostly glib and cavalier film, but it’s little moments like that that set this apart and turn it from a formula flick into a formula flick populated by genuine human beings, and not simply written avatars for plot propulsion. The two leads have banter for the ages too, like when Grodin coaxes Deniro out of resentful silence by hinting that chickens they just spotted on an Indian reservation are looking pretty foxy, one in a countless stream of fresh, pithy and completely believable verbal interaction the two share throughout the film. It’s fun, exciting, rowdy, effortlessly well made, brilliant storytelling, and will always be way up there on my list of all time favourites.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory With Nate: The Immortals

  

The Immortals is one of those brilliant little action crime flicks that seemed to slip through the cracks and disappear soon after it aired on TV. That wouldn’t be a problem if it was one of the many intolerable embarrassments that speckle Eric Robert’s career like goose shit on a manicured lawn. But it’s actually a really great time, with a bunch of actors who are super into what the script has them do, and geniunly fascinating story to tell us, which it does so at a breakneck pace. Roberts plays Jack, a silver tongued nightclub owner with ties to some dangerous underworld players. One night he calls a meeting with eight different petty thieves from all walks of life, announcing that he’s planning to orchestrate a heist against criminal kingpin Dominic (screen legend Tony Curtis in one of his final roles), and proceeds to send them off to perform risky jobs all over town, rapidly gaining Dominics attention and hostility. During an extended face off between his forces and Jack’s merry band of miscreants, they discover that Jack has a very specific and secretive reason for selecting them all for this venture, and nothing is what it seems. William Forsythe is a kicker as Tim, the loose cannon of the bunch, a rowdy psycho who smartens up during the finale, which gives him terrific dialogue to chow on. Chris Rock is the fast talking dude among them, Tia Carrere is sexy and stunt savvy as always, Clarence Williams III does his bug eyed weirdo shtick to the hilt, and Joe Pantoliano never misses a beat either. Roberts is the ringmaster of this chaotic little circus though, failing up that southern prince charm and flashing the mile wide million dollar grin whenever he gets the chance. There’s a lived in, easy breezy feel to this, like these characters are really getting to know each other, bonds are formed and tested amidst a haughty atmosphere and a lethal situation. Twists, turns and somersaults punctuate the narrative, and they’re super fun to try and sniff out as you watch the fireworks blow up the screen. A B movie, yes, but an extremely well made one that gives it it’s all and comes out a grinning winner.

Bound: A Review by Nate Hill

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Before the Wachowskis rocketed into the stratosphere of cinema with their big budget world building and brilliant, lofty ideas, they made Bound, a down n’ dirty, kinky little slice of mob pulp that’s as much fun as it is sexy, potent and dangerous. Gina Gershon plays Corky, a hard nosed opportunist with a keen eye for making money and a fondness for beautiful women. Jennifer Tilly is Violet, the bored wife of weaselly gangster Ceasar (a lively Joe Pantoliano), who has just come into a whole wacky of shady cash via his employer Mickey, played by one of the great character actors of his generation, John P. Ryan, who is sadly no longer with us. Ceasar has been given the money to launder, but Violet has other plans that involve double crossing him and making off with it. When she happens to wander into the gay bar that Corky frequents, sparks fly. And I really mean it, for soon enough the two are in bed together for one of the single most hot and heavy sex scenes you will ever see in a film. Seriously, you’ll want to open some windows for this baby. As soon as Corky gets wind of the money, the plot simmers as everyone makes a discreet mad dash for riches and no one is sure who is screwing over who. Gershon is tough, sexy as hell and leaves a faint trace of vulnerability in her excellent performance. Tilly is crafty and secretive, deliberately making people underestimate her until it’s too late. This was Ryan’s last film role, and he makes the most of it as a salty old thug with a dash of class, a touch of kindness and the unnerving tendancy to snap at the drop of a hat. Christopher Meloni is hilariously pathetic as his second in command who irritates everyone around him, especially Ceasar, who has a scary little temper of his own. One senses real danger for our two female leads, because despite the somewhat playful and often satirical tone towards tell gangsters, the Wachowskis have still fashioned them to be formidable and cruel, a wise tonal choice that grounds the viewer and distills geniune suspense. The characters are all brilliantly written and realized, so if you read this review thinking this was a trashy little lowbrow affair, it’s not. It’s It’s a real world tale that just so happens to take place in a lurid part of movie town, and contains one scorcher of a lesbian love affair that is as affecting in dialogue and body language as it is with sex. A special film, and not one to be missed.

MIDNIGHT RUN – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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One of the most popular trends in the 1980s cinema was the buddy-action film. The best ones to come out of this period were 48 HRS. (1982), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Lethal Weapon (1987), and Midnight Run (1988), which spawned numerous imitators and sequels. Along with Lethal Weapon, Midnight Run is arguably the genre’s last gasp before slipping into formulaic predictability and self-parody (see Rush Hour, Blue Streak, et al). What makes Midnight Run so good, even after all these years, is the unbeatable combination of an excellent cast, a witty script and solid direction.

Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) is a bounty hunter hired by his bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano) to find and transport to Los Angeles, one Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin) — a.k.a. “The Duke,” an accountant who stole $15 million from Las Vegas gangster Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina). What is initially a simple “midnight run” from New York City to Los Angeles, turns into the road trip from hell as Walsh and Mardukas are pursued across the country via plane, train, and automobile by dim-witted gangsters, frustrated FBI agents led by Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto), and a rival bounty hunter named Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton).

While this film may be a comedy, Brest lets us know right from the get-go that it’s going to have a slightly unpredictable edge to it as Walsh is almost killed by a deadbeat he’s supposed to bring in. If that wasn’t bad enough, his guy is almost snatched away from him by Dorfler. I like that Brest takes the time to show Walsh doing his job and that he’s good at it. The bounty hunter is able to track down and find Mardukas where the Feds and the Mob were unable.

Brest wastes no time introducing the film’s various antagonists starting with Mosely who approaches Walsh on the street. The bounty hunter quickly finds himself surrounded by four FBI agents. Walsh knows what they want and gives them nothing but smartass replies to their questions. Yaphet Kotto doesn’t play Mosely as an inept bumbler but instead brings an impressive intensity to the role that makes his character something of an intimidating figure which, of course, makes his kind of incompetent lackeys that much funnier the more frustrated he gets when they are repeatedly unable to catch Walsh and Markdukas. For example, there’s the withering glare Mosely gives one of his flunkies when he states the painfully obvious – that Walsh has his identification.

Midnight Run
adheres to the basic formula of the buddy-action film with two diametrically opposed characters teaming up to fight the bad guys. Inevitably, humorous situations arise from constant bickering while the duo shoots, punches, and fights their way out of action-packed set pieces. Ultimately, what makes Midnight Run work so well is how it messes around with the formula. Instead of having one funny guy and one straight man, you have two straight men with De Niro and Grodin. And yet it works, due in large part to the skill of the two leads who complement each other perfectly — De Niro plays Walsh as a gruff, foul-mouthed guy constantly annoyed by Grodin’s clean-cut accountant, armed with a seemingly endless supply of personal questions to ask his traveling companion. Their scenes together seem very spontaneous and real as they annoy the hell out of each other.

Fresh from his scene-stealing appearance in The Untouchables (1987), Robert De Niro was eager to try something different. He wanted to do a comedy and to this end, pursued the lead role in Penny Marshall’s film, Big (1988). Marshall was interested but the studio was not and thankfully the role went to Tom Hanks. Martin Brest, who directed Beverly Hills Cop, had found another script by George Gallo in the same vein — one that blended elements of comedy and action. He sent it to De Niro and was very up front with the actor: Midnight Run was a commercial film, not an in-depth character study. Regardless, De Niro researched his role by working with real-life bounty hunters and police officers.

Paramount was originally interested in backing Midnight Run but they wanted a big name star opposite De Niro in order to improve the film’s chances at the box office. Their production executives suggested that the Mardukas character be changed to a woman and wanted Cher for the role in the hopes that she would provide some “sexual overtones.” Brest wisely rejected the idea and so Paramount suggested teaming De Niro up with Robin Williams. Williams was a big star in his own right and eager to get the role. He even offered to do an audition for Brest — a rarity for the comedian whose name alone could green light projects. However, Brest was impressed by Charles Grodin’s audition with De Niro. The director felt that there was a real chemistry between the two actors. As a result, Paramount backed out and the studio’s president Ned Tanen claimed that the budget became too high and decided that “it wasn’t worth it.” Universal Pictures became interested in the project. It is to Brest’s credit that he supported Grodin down the line and refused to change his decision despite studio pressure.

Brest brought Grodin aboard with the understanding that the actor would have the opportunity to improvise. Grodin was very much open to De Niro’s improvisational technique. He remembered that De Niro “was all about ‘work,’ plain and simple, and being with him felt like breathing pure oxygen.” Some of their best scenes feel like the screenplay was just thrown out and that they simply riffed off one another. For example, the night boxcar scene where Walsh and Mardukas bond, after illegally stowing away on a train, was improvised entirely.

Much of Midnight Run’s humor comes from these moments as they constantly antagonize each other. This relationship is believable because the film takes the time to develop it with many scenes where the two men just talk, and this allows us to get to know them. Most buddy films spend only the bare minimum amount of time on character development and instead cram as many action set pieces and explosions in as possible. As a result, we do not become attached to the characters. Midnight Run does not fall into this trap.

For all of its commercial elements, George Gallo’s script has very strong, three-dimensional characters that transcend their stereotypes. It was the script that first drew Grodin to the project. He said in an interview that “the script had dimension beyond what I’m used to seeing. The dimension of character. It looked like a good action-adventure genre picture with strong character evolution.” De Niro, being the consummate actor that he is, still manages to inject little touches and details, like a habit of constantly checking his faulty watch, or the nice bit of comedy when he checks out Mosely’s identification that he pickpocketed during their first meeting. De Niro walks away from the camera only to quickly turn around and flash the stolen ID in an amusing parody of an FBI agent. It is these little bits of business that provide insights into his character. Brest commented in an interview that, “sometimes I’d let the camera run after finishing a scene to see if he did any bits, and invariably he did.”

From the two leads to the rest of the supporting cast, each character is given a moment or two to say or do something that makes them distinctive and funny. For example, there is John Ashton as Dorfler, a rival bounty hunter who falls for the same stupid trick every time. Dorfler is not just some generic bounty hunter. Ashton transforms him into a self-absorbed idiot who is completely oblivious to the big picture. Even though Dorfler is always on the receiving end of many jokes, he gets his chances to prevail. However, you know that, ultimately, he is destined to fail. Dorfler has a distinctive personality instead of being merely a cardboard cutout.

Joe Pantoliano is so good as the increasingly exasperated bail bondsman. His opening exchange with De Niro early on in the film is so well played. In a matter of moments De Niro and Pantoliano suggest a long history between their two characters in the way they act towards each other. Eddie is a consummate bullshit artist but Walsh sees right through that. I like the nice little detail that Brest throws into this scene where Eddie pays Walsh by taking out a wad of cash stashed in his pink and white socks. It is details like this that say so much about a character. Eddie cares only about money and his reputation. These characters could have been presented as clichéd stereotypes but Brest wisely casts veteran character actors like Ashton and Pantoliano in these roles.

Many of the supporting characters appear constantly throughout the film in a series of recurring gags, like Mosely running into people who’ve encountered Walsh posing as him, or Mardukas’ never-ending questions about Walsh’s personal life (“Why were you so unpopular with the Chicago Police Department?”), or Dorfler getting fooled by the same trick time and time again. Then there’s Joey (Robert Miranda) and Tony (Richard Foronjy), two dumb Vegas wiseguys that work for Serrano. Tony’s the slightly smarter one but not by much. The give and take between these two minor characters is really funny and the script gives them a moment of actual competency which makes them more than just one-dimensional thugs. It helps that the two actors playing them do such a good job bringing these characters to life.

Much like Yaphet Kotto does with Agent Mosely, Dennis Farina plays his character as if he were in a drama and not a comedy. Unlike his goofier mobsters in Get Shorty (1995) and Snatch (2000), the actor transforms Jimmy Serrano into an imposing figure best illustrated in the scene where he confronts Mardukas and tells him that he’s going to die. For a brief moment, Midnight Run stops being a comedy and there’s a real sense of danger thanks to Farina’s chilling presence in this scene. He’s also quite funny in the scenes where he threatens his underlings with all sorts over-the-top violent acts if they don’t do his bidding.

Nowadays, it’s hard to remember when De Niro doing a comedy was something of an anomaly. Sure, he had done The King of Comedy (1983) but by and large he was known at the time as a dramatic actor. So, teaming him up with veteran comedic actor Charles Grodin in an action comedy must’ve seemed like a risky prospect to the studio. But this would be tempered with director Brest behind the camera. This was years before Gigli (2003) when he was still enjoying the good will from the smash hit Beverly Hills Cop. If anybody could make De Niro funny while still retaining his trademark intensity, it was Brest.

Now, there is a whole generation of filmgoers that only knows De Niro from comedies like Meet the Parents (2000) and Analyze That (2002). Charles Grodin has, for the most part, shunned the limelight. He had a short-lived talk show but has, unfortunately, not done anything on par with his work in Midnight Run. In fact, he hasn’t acted much since 1994 and said in a recent interview that he has quit acting altogether. By the late 1980s, early 1990s, the buddy-action film had become a tired and hackneyed cliché. Screenwriter Shane Black offered a brief breath of fresh air with Lethal Weapon (1987) and The Last Boy Scout (1991) but generic time-wasters, like De Niro’s own Showtime (2002), Serving Sara (2002), which blatantly rips off Midnight Run, or the more recent The Bounty Hunter (2010), are still cranked out with predictable regularity by the studios. Back in 1988, Brest delivered the goods in a big way, serving up an R-rated film that mixed exciting car chases and shoot-outs with hilarious recurring gags and assortment of colorful characters.